Wednesday 18th July 2018

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St. Leo And St. Augustine: Rejoice In The Savior’s Birth

December 20, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

(Editor’s Note: Below are two classic Christmas sermons from two saints: first, one from Pope St. Leo the Great, which appears on www.catholicism.org, and second, one from St. Augustine, which appears on www.catholic.org.)

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From Pope St. Leo the Great:
Our Savior, dearly Beloved, was born this day. Let us rejoice. Sadness is not becoming upon the Birth Day of Life Itself, which, now that the fear of death is ended, fills us with gladness, because of our own promised immortality.
No one is excluded from sharing in this cheerfulness, for the reason of our joy is common to all men. Our Lord, the Conqueror of sin and death, since there was no one free from servitude, came that He might bring deliverance to all.
Let him who is sanctified rejoice, for he draws nigh to the palm. Let the sinner rejoice, since he is invited to grace. Let the Gentiles exult, for they are called to life. For the Son of God, in the fullness of time, has taken upon Himself the nature of our humanity, as the unsearchable depths of the divine counsel hath decreed, in order that the inventor of death, the Devil, by that very nature which he defeated, would be himself overcome.
And in this contest that was undertaken for us, the battle was waged in accordance with a great and wondrous law of justice. For the Omnipotent God engaged in combat with His most bitter enemy, not in the strength of His own Majesty, but in our human infirmity; confronting him with our very form and nature, and sharing likewise in our mortality; but free of all stain.
Unlike this Holy Nativity, is that of which we read of all men: No one is there free from sin, not even the infant whose life upon the earth is but a day (Job 14:4). But of the concupiscence of the flesh, nothing has been transmitted in this unique generation; nothing of the law of sin has descended. A royal virgin of the House of David is chosen as the bearer of the Sacred Fruit, who had conceived her divine and human Offspring in her soul, before she conceived Him in her body.
And knowing not the divine purpose, and lest she be fearful at such unheard of tidings, she learns from the angelic colloquy of that which was to be wrought in her by the Holy Spirit; nor did she, who was about to become the Mother of God, believe that this betokened the loss of her virginity.
Why should she be fearful, to whom fruitfulness is promised through the power of the Most High? The faith of the believer is confirmed by the witness of the miracle that went before, when to Elizabeth was given unlooked-for fruitfulness; that it might not be doubted, that He Who had given to the barren to conceive, would give it likewise to the Virgin.
The Word of God, therefore, God, the Son of God, Who in the beginning was with God, by Whom all things were made, and without Whom was made nothing that was made, became Man, that He might free man from eternal death; bending down to the taking of our lowliness, without diminution of His own Majesty, so that remaining what He was, and taking upon Himself what He was not, He might join the form of a true servant to that form in which He is equal to God the Father (Phil. 2:6); and by such a bond so link both natures, that this exaltation might not swallow up the lesser, nor adoption lessen the Higher.
Preserving therefore, the substance of both natures, and uniting them in One Person, lowliness is assumed by Majesty; infirmity, by Power; mortality, by Immortality. And to pay the debt of our present state, an inviolable Nature is united to our suffering one; and true God and true man are welded into the unity of One Lord, so that, as was needed for our healing, one and the same Mediator of God and men, might, by the one, suffer death, and by the Other, rise again from the dead. Rightly then, did this Birth of our salvation bring no taint of corruption to the Virginal integrity; for the birth of Truth, was the defense of virginity.
Such a Birth, dearly Beloved, befitted Christ, the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God; whereby He would be both joined to our lowliness, yet remain far above us in His divinity. For unless He were true God, He could bring us no aid; and were He not true man, He could offer us no example.
The exulting angels, therefore, sing to the newborn Lord, Glory to God in the Highest, and they announce unto me, peace on earth to men of good will. For they see the heavenly Jerusalem made up from all peoples of the earth. With what joy may not the lowliness of mankind rejoice in this unspeakable work of the divine compassion, when the angels in their glory so greatly rejoice!
Let us, therefore, give thanks, dearly Beloved, to God the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit; Who, because of the exceeding great love, wherein He has loved us, has had compassion on us. And even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together in Christ (Eph. 2:5), that in Him we might be a new creature, and a new clay. Let us strip ourselves of the old man with his deeds; for being made partakers of the Birth of Christ, let us renounce the deeds of the flesh (Col. 3:9).
Acknowledge, O Christian, the dignity that is yours! Being made a partaker of the divine nature, do not by an unworthy manner of living fall back into your former abjectness of life. Be mindful of Whose Head, and of Whose Body, you are a member. Remember, that wrested from the powers of darkness, thou art now translated into the Light and the Kingdom of God. By the Sacrament of Baptism you have become the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Do not, by evil deeds, drive out from you such a One dwelling with thee, and submit yourself again to the bondage of the Devil. Because your price was the Blood of Christ; because in strictness He shall judge you, Who in mercy has redeemed you, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.

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From St. Augustine:
Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, the true Sun of Justice, so shone upon the earth as not to leave the heavens, remaining there eternally, but coming hither for a time; there determining the everlasting day, here enduring the day of humanity; there living perpetually without the passage of time, here dying in time without the inroads of sin; there remaining in life without end, here freeing our life from the destruction of death.
There He enkindles the minds of angels with the fiery splendor of His majesty; here He determines the lives and characters of men. There light is received which no one extinguishes by sin; here Man is born who clearly defines all sin. There God is with God; here He is God and Man. There He is Light of Light; here, the Light which enlightens every man. There by a word He spreads out the heavens; here He shows a way of reaching the heavens. There with His Father He confirmed the mystery of His Nativity; here He formed His human members in His Mother.
There sitting at the right hand of the Father, here lying in a manger; there feeding the angels, here on earth a hungry Child; there unfailing Bread with perfect powers, here, along with speechless children, needing the nourishment of milk; there doing good, here suffering evil; there never dying, here rising after death and bestowing eternal life on mortals. God became man so that man might become God. The Lord took the form of a servant so that man might be turned to God. The Founder and Inhabitant of Heaven dwelt upon earth so that man might rise from earth to Heaven. (1)
The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day [set aside] for His human birth. In the bosom of His Father, He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly Mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day.
The Maker of man became Man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Grape, (2) might be crowned with thorns; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.
To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years. He did this although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits. Begotten by the Father, He was not made by the Father; He was made Man in the Mother whom He Himself had made, so that He might exist here for a while, sprung from her who could never and nowhere have existed except through His power.
Thus the prediction of the Psalmist was fulfilled: Truth is sprung out of the earth. (3) Mary, a virgin before conception, remained a virgin after childbirth. Far be it that in this earth, that is, in the flesh out of which Truth has sprung, integrity should be marred. Indeed, after His Resurrection, when He was thought to be merely a spirit and not actually corporeal, He said: “Feel me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” (4)
Nevertheless, the substance of His mature body passed through closed doors to His disciples. (5) Why, then, could He, who as a grown man was able to enter through closed portals, not pass through incorrupt members as an infant? To neither the one nor the other of these marvels do unbelievers wish to give their assent. Therefore, faith believes both, because infidelity believes neither. In truth, this is that type of unbelief which sees no divinity in Christ.
Furthermore, if faith believes that God was born in the flesh, it does not doubt that the two miracles are possible to God, namely, that though the doors of the house were closed, He manifested His mature body to those within the house, and that as an infant He came forth, a spouse from His bride-chamber, that is, from the virginal womb, leaving His Mother’s integrity inviolate. (6)
The only-begotten Son of God deigned to take upon Himself a human nature drawn from a virgin so that He might thus link a spotless Church to Himself, its spotless Founder. In doing so He not only thought of virgins undefiled in body, but He also desired that, in that Church which the Apostle Paul calls a virgin, the minds of all should be undefiled. “For I betrothed you to one spouse, that I might present you a chaste virgin to Christ.” (7)
The Church, therefore, imitating the Mother of her Lord in mind, though not in body, is both mother and virgin. Since the virginity of His Mother was in no way violated in the birth of Christ, He likewise made His Church a virgin by ransoming her from the fornication of demons.
You holy virgins, born of her undefiled virginity, who, scorning earthly nuptials, have chosen to be virgins in the flesh, rejoice now and celebrate with all solemnity the fecundity of the Virgin on this day.
The Lord was, indeed, born of a woman, but He was conceived in her without man’s cooperation. He who has offered to you this blessing of virginity to cherish did not deprive His Mother of that gift. Far be it that He who repairs in you the harm wrought by Eve should even in the slightest degree mar in His Mother Mary that virginity which you have prized.
She in whose footsteps you are following had no human intercourse when she conceived; she remained a virgin when she brought forth her child. Imitate her as far as you can, not in her fecundity, because this is not in your power, but in the preservation of your virginity. She alone enjoyed both prerogatives; you have chosen one of them and you lose this one if you desire to possess both. She alone could be both virgin and mother because she brought forth the omnipotent Lord by whose power she thus miraculously conceived. It was fitting that the only-begotten Son of God alone should become the Son of Man in this way.
Nevertheless, the fact that Christ is the Son of only one virgin does not preclude any relation between you and Him. Indeed, you have gained as the spouse of your heart Him whom you could not bring forth as your child in the flesh. He is a spouse whom your joy so cherishes as a redeemer that your virginity does not shrink from Him in fear of violation. For He who did not deprive His Mother of virginity by actual childbearing preserves that virginity in you to a much greater degree in His spiritual embrace.
Do not consider yourselves sterile because you remain virgins, for that holy integrity of the flesh conduces to fertility of the soul. Do as the Apostle directs. Since you do not ponder over the things of the world, wondering how you may please husbands, think about the things of the Lord and consider how you can please Him in all respects, (8) so that you may have offspring, not of the flesh, but of the soul, that is, of virtues.
Finally, I address all here present; I speak to all; I include in my exhortations the whole Church, that chaste virgin whom the Apostle speaks of as espoused to Christ. (9)
Do, in the inner chambers of your soul, what you view with amazement in the flesh of Mary. He who believes in his heart unto justice conceives Christ; he who with his mouth makes profession of faith unto salvation brings forth Christ. (10) Thus, in your souls, let fertility abound and virginity be preserved.

FOOTNOTES

1. This extended exordium is prefixed to this sermon in several manuscripts. Although its rather monotonous succession of balanced phrases seems to indicate the work of an assiduous disciple of St. Augustine, the content, vocabulary, and style resemble the other sermons so closely that it has been included here on the supposition that it may have been an unfinished preliminary sketch by St. Augustine.
2. This metaphor by which Christ is represented under the imagery of the grape is developed at greater length in a previous sermon (137.13), wherein St. Augustine says that the grapes referred to in “Numquid colligunt de spinis uvas” (Matt. 7:16.) are the words of truth issuing from the Pharisees in spite of the obstacles arising from their perverse deeds. In the present passage St. Augustine applies the same figure to the Word of God who was thwarted and opposed by the Pharisees.
3. Psalm 84:12.
4. Luke 24:39.
5. Cf. John 20:19.
6. Cf. Psalm 18:6.
7. 2 Cor. 11:2.
8. Cf. 1 Cor 7:32-35.
9. Cf. 2 Cor. 11:2.
0. Cf. Romans 10:10.

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